FATE & FORTUNA

FATE & FORTUNA

To win a TT race on the Isle of Man requires a lot of elements all coming together on the day: skill, reliability, teamwork and course conditions, to name just a few. But as any rider will tell you, it also requires a good slice of luck. Fate and fortune, or misfortune if you like, have each played a significant role in the outcome of many a race around the 37 and ¾ mile Mountain Course. In fact, you couldn’t very well tell the story of the TT without a few hard-luck stories, could you?

CHRIS GUY AND THE SENIOR THAT NEVER WAS 

Devon-based Chris Guy was one of the UK’s leading young riders in the late 1970s and early 1980s, notably finishing a fine second to Charlie Williams in the 1980 Formula 2 TT. However, he’ll always be remembered for the following year’s Senior TT… or rather, the Senior that never was.

Damp and misty weather had caused the race to be delayed by an hour and, when it did get underway, a number of the leading riders pulled in to retire at the end of lap one. Guy pressed on, however, and led for the opening two laps only for the race to be stopped on lap three - ironically when the weather was improving.

The race was declared ‘null and void’ and re-run the following day when conditions were again far from ideal. This time, Guy was running in a good fourth place on his RG500 Suzuki when a rain shower at Braddan Bridge on the fourth lap saw him crash out, fortunately without injury.  Suzuki paid him a cash bonus of £1,000 in recognition of his performance, but whilst he continued to compete at the TT until 1984, he never finished another race.

NIGEL DAVIES AND THE IRISH RAIN

In scenes reminiscent of the 1981 Senior, Nigel ‘Cap’ Davies was denied a potential victory in the 1994 Formula 1 TT when heavy rain led to the race being halted prematurely. This time, however, much of the island was bathed in glorious sunshine as fans eagerly took up their positions in anticipation of the race start. Steve Hislop, first on the road on board the Castrol Honda RC45, naturally opted for slick tyres, but rain was fast approaching from Ireland.

So fast, in fact, that the Scotsman only got as far as Ballacraine before encountering the soaking wet roads that now ran up the western side of the course. With mist on the mountain to contend with as well, he subsequently toured round for the remainder of the lap and retired at the pits - as did Iain Duffus, who ran down pitlane to plead with Manx Radio’s Geoff Cannell for the race to be stopped.

Meanwhile, Davies held a lead of more than a minute over Bob Jackson and Simon Beck before spotting the red flags. He was understandably unhappy, as was Phillip McCallen; this particular Castrol Honda rider more determined to continue.

The race was re-run the following day - this time in perfect weather conditions - with Hislop taking a comfortable victory over team mate McCallen for his tenth TT win. Davies finished sixth and was never again presented with such an opportunity.

John Williams entered the record books in 1976, but it all ended in disappointment

JOHN WILLIAMS AND THE BIG PUSH

1976 was the final year the TT counted towards the World Championship. Works Suzuki rider John Williams was hot favourite for the 500cc Senior TT and an opening lap of 110.71mph duly gave him a commanding 44 second lead over Tom Heron – at the same time entering the record books as the first rider to lap the TT Course at more than 110mph.

A scorching lap of 112.27mph for his second circuit added to his advantage, and it seemed to those watching that he was having a trouble-free race. This was far from the truth, however, with the clutch failing to operate from Ballacraine on lap one – just 7 miles into that first record-breaking lap. Then, with less than two laps to go, the steering damper broke!

With a lead of almost three minutes, he decided to keep going, but a selector fault made it almost impossible to change gear, or even for John to know what gear he was in. By good fortune he was able to find bottom gear for the slowest corners and was soon tantalisingly close to a famous win. Then, as Williams negotiated Governors Bridge for the final time, the engine stalled. He pushed the big Suzuki for what remained of the race - an agonisingly short distance of 600 yards. Exhausted, he collapsed at the finish, crossing the line in seventh.

PHIL­LIP McCALLEN AND THE MISSING PIT STOP 

Pit stops have always played an integral part of racing at the Isle of Man TT and, whilst it’s a cliché that races can be won and lost in the pits, it certainly rings true for many. Not quite for Phillip McCallen though, who forgot to even visit pit lane.

The race in question was the 1993 Junior TT. The four lap 250cc race required competitors to pit for fuel at the end of the second lap and it was the only option - it wasn’t possible to get three laps out of the quarter litre machines, never mind four. Neil Tuxworth and the Castrol Honda team were left mystified, however, when McCallen failed to come in to ‘gasoline alley’ and, instead, continued at full speed toward Bray Hill.

Lying in fifth place, thirty seconds down on leader Brian Reid, McCallen had been losing time while locked in battle with Dave Milling who’d started ten seconds ahead of him. Phillip was desperate to pull clear of his Yamaha rival, but so focused was he on the task in hand, he simply forgot to stop for fuel.

McCallen realised his error almost instantly, but there was nothing he could do. He continued to race and amazingly got as far as Ballacrye - half way around the third lap - before the tank finally ran dry. To compound things, a TV crew was already in position, ready to ask him about his embarrassing mistake!

The TAS team were out of gas in 2005, but the incident fuels another TT tale of misfortune

ARCHIBALD AND THE EMPTY TANK

Fuel, or rather not enough of it, has denied many a rider a TT win. Just ask Adrian Archibald (don’t ask Adrian Archibald), who fell victim to a pit lane miscalculation by Hector Neill and his TAS Racing in 2005. 

Team-mate Bruce Anstey had established himself as the man to beat in the Superstock TT, but Archibald, looking for his fourth TT win, was a man on a mission and held a 15 second lead after two laps - setting a new lap record of 126.641mph along the way.

He pitted for a ‘splash and dash’ before heading out onto the third and final lap, but the stop looked worryingly quick. And, so it proved. Archie ran out of fuel at the Bungalow leaving team owner Neill to accept the blame, which he graciously did - adding that he expected to be lynched by his crestfallen rider.

BOB JACKSON AND THE TROUBLESOME FILLER CAP 

Honda celebrated their 40th anniversary in 1998 and brought two full factory RC45s to the TT that year - two of the most exotic machines ever raced around the Mountain Course. With Phillip McCallen absent through injury, Ian Simpson and Michael Rutter were the anointed riders, while Dave Molyneux also raced in Honda Britain colours over in the sidecar class. Honda duly enjoyed a near clean-sweep of TT victories that year, but it could have been oh-so different had things gone to plan in the Senior TT for Bob Jackson and his team, McAdoo Racing.

It was Rutter who stormed into an early lead, but a front wheel puncture at the beginning of lap three halted his charge, handing the initiative to team mate Simpson. Jackson, however, had fitted a large tank to his Kawasaki and would only need to stop once for fuul, at the end of lap three. When he came to a halt in pit lane, his lead over Simpson was half a minute, but as the team tried to put the filler cap back on, it simply wouldn’t go.

There were numerous frantic attempts before the offending item screwed in, the time lost pushing the McAdoo rider down to fifth. Although Jackson worked his way back up to second - aided by a personal best lap of 122.65mph - Simpson and the might of Honda held on for the win by the slender margin of 3.5 seconds. It was Jackson’s seventh and final TT podium - all seconds and thirds. Oh, what might have been.

Ian Simpson lost out in 1994 when everything turned blurry, but profited four years later

SIMPSON, RUTTER AND THE STRAY LENSES

Many a bespectacled rider has succeeded at the TT, Harold Daniell famously winning three Senior TTs despite being turned down for military service due to his poor eyesight! Peter Williams, Mac Hobson and Charlie Williams are three other notable riders to have won wearing glasses, but as the decades progressed, contact lenses became a more popular choice. These were deemed more comfortable and less obtrusive when wearing a tight-fitting helmet, but whilst glasses rarely moved, that hasn’t always been the same with contact lenses.

Ian Simpson was one of the hot favourites for the 1994 Supersport 600cc TT. Everything was going according to plan as he lay less than 6 seconds behind race leader Jim Moodie after two laps. However, lap three saw not one, but both of Simpson’s lenses fall out, with the Scottish ace promptly swallowing each! In his own words, “it was difficult to see,” and he had to follow Iain Duffus on the final lap to guide him home. Duffus duly got the win as Simpson finished a bitter-sweet second.

A similar fate befell Michael Rutter in 1998 when leading the Formula 1 TT - somewhat ironically from Simpson. Going into the final lap, Rutter lost a lens and, like Simpson in 1994, he “couldn’t see too well.” Combined with a near-record lap from Simpson, the stray lens helped to demote Rutter to second, his Honda team mate beating him by just 2.2 seconds. He subsequently had laser eye surgery!

BRIAN REID AND THE UNKNOWN 

Brian Reid’s 1985 TT campaign got off to the worst possible start when two of his machines sank to the bottom of the Irish Sea after the fishing boat carrying them struck rocks off Strangford Lough. Reid wasn’t on the ‘Tornamona’, but Joey and Robert Dunlop, and seven other machines were. It was a frightening and sobering experience for all concerned.

Reid was still amongst the race favourites though, and a maiden TT win looked on the cards in the World Formula Two Championship race when he set a new lap record of 110.47mph from a standing start. He stretched his lead on lap two, but the 350cc Yamaha started misfiring on the run over ‘the Mountain’. Reid’s team changed the spark plugs in the pits, but it was to no avail. After several more stops, he finally admitted defeat.

Reid’s attention quickly turned to Wednesday’s Junior 250cc TT, which proved to be the most exciting of the week. Reid swapped the lead regularly with Joey Dunlop, each breaking the lap record during the six-lap race as they spurred each other on. Fifth time around, Reid set the mark at 112.08mph and entered the final lap 15 seconds clear of the Ballamoney ace.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Reid came to heart-breaking stop at Hillberry, less than two miles from the finish. The tank on his EMC had been filled to the brim, but no one had posted 112mph+ laps on a 250cc machine before; Reid simply paid the price for entering previously unknown territory. Disconsolate, he walked off into an adjacent field with tears running down his face.

Giacomo Agostini was on course to win one of the greatest TT races of all time before fate and misfortune intervened

AGOSTINI AND THE WEAKEST LINK

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, as the saying goes. Like most sayings, there’s more than an element of truth in it, and it was chain that helped decide the outcome of one of the greatest and most famous TT races of all time.

Honda’s Mike Hailwood was up against Giacomo Agostini and MV Agusta, the ‘master and apprentice’ set to duke it out in the Senior TT that brought to a close the Golden Jubilee event of 1967. The Honda was the faster machine, but the MV was the better-handling of the two and, having claimed his first TT win the year before, Agostini was determined to add the Blue Riband event to his palmarès.

The duo repeatedly swapped the lead and pushed up the lap record, but it was the Italian who opened up what looked like a race-defining 12 second lead with two laps to go. Agostini’s hopes of a win on his birthday ended, however, when the chain on the MV broke at Windy Corner on the fifth lap. Free-wheeling back to the pits in tears, it would be another 12 months until he finally won the Senior TT.

Four decades on, a similar fate befell John McGuinness in the Senior TT of 2009 when his HM Plant Honda shed its chain at May Hill, shortly after setting a new outright lap record of 131.578mph. Technology may move on­, but the challenge remains.

AMM, READ AND THE BENEFITS OF KEEPING ON

To stop or not? That was the question in 1954 and 1977 when rain led to early stoppages, changing the result considerably. The former saw Ray Amm (Norton) and Geoff Duke (Gilera) go head-to-head in the Senior TT, Duke leading after two laps that were raced in poor conditions. The weather worsened, but despite the rain now increasingly heavy, the race continued.

Duke pitted for fuel at the end of lap three, but Amm went straight through to take the lead by nearly half a minute. Shortly afterwards, the stewards announced that the race would be stopped once the leaders completed their fourth lap. Amm therefore got the win from Duke, but many onlookers were left wondering what the outcome would have been if the race had gone its intended distance.

Duke took his sixth TT win the following year, but Roger Nicholls wasn’t so fortunate with the same circumstances denying him in the 1977 Formula 1 TT. Honda Britain’s Phil Read, returning after a five-year absence, led by 46 seconds after two laps, but Nicholls turned the tables on the next circuit to take over at the front on the Sports Motorcycles Ducati.

With the weather deteriorating, Read - like Amm - went straight through to start his fourth lap, retaking the lead while his rival stopped for fuel. Once again, the stewards decided to stop the race at the end of the fourth lap, gifting Read the win and leaving Nicholls to settle for a controversial second. It would prove to be the Welshman’s only TT podium.

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